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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Y. Sh. Naumov [I. S. Neumov]: The Yiddish Press in Los Angeles, Pt. 1

“The Yiddish Press in Los Angeles” by Y. Sh. Naumov [I. S. Neumov]
As appears in Kheshbn (Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 44 - 50.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.
[Translator’s note: Personal names are spelled as in the Yiddish original, except for persons well known in English. Words underlined were written in English, but with Yiddish letters.]

Actually, I should call my article: “The Yiddish Press in California” because San Francisco also has a share in it, but the largest share belongs to Los Angeles. In fact, the newspapers that are printed in San Francisco are published with an eye toward Yiddish Los Angeles. When San Francisco still had more Jews than Los Angeles, the Jews in Los Angeles were nevertheless more Jewish than the Jews in San Francisco.
San Francisco had well established, wealthy Yahudim [overly westernized Jews] who had no connection with Yiddish newspapers, and they satisfied themselves chiefly with “charity for their poor brethren,” and their whole connection with east European Jews had the character of giving help to the poor co-religionists. And although present-day San Francisco already has many self-aware Jews, Jewish San Francisco still carries either the heavily assimilationist imprint of those estranged German Yahudim whose world view is assimilation, or, as the modern Jews of that sort call it today — integration.
And yet, when Dr. Y. Vortsman [Dr. Charles Wortsman] came to Los Angeles in 1912 and acquainted himself with both cities, he chose to publish the first weekly Yiddish newspaper in San Francisco. Dr. Vortsman knew very well that the larger support for the newspaper would eventually come from Los Angeles, both in the number of subscribers and in ongoing financial help. He also knew that the necessary co-workers were in Los Angeles. At that time, there were Jews in Los Angeles who were capable writers. Here, there were Dovid Gisnet [David Gisnet], Noyekh Mishkovski, Yankev Ginzburg [Jacob Ginzberg], Dr. L. Bles [Dr. Leo Blass], F. Riskin, myself, and still others. Incidentally, it must be mentioned that it was Noyekh Mishkovski who convinced Vortsman to come here. But Vortsman arrived here with very little money. Every cent of his was already accounted for. More than anything else, he had newspaper experience, endurance, stubbornness and the strong resistance needed for sustained hard work.
It should be said here that, although many of those Jews strove to develop Yiddish culture in sunny California, they expected to receive large honoraria for their writing. Vortsman was unable to satisfy certain demands and many of his contacts were broken before the newspaper appeared. Dr. Vortsman tried to sell shares here, but because of the partisan discord of the time, the results were miserable. With an eye toward the entire Pacific Coast, Vortsman thought San Francisco was the point that would connect the south with the north along the Pacific coastal strip.
At the beginning of 1913 in San Francisco, the first issue of the weekly Yiddish newspaper “Di kalifornyer idisher shtime” [The California Jewish Voice] appeared. The first issues had a very small format, 12 by 9, but the first issues were quite successful because, in addition to local writers, they had the participation of Itsik Ayzik, Ben-Aryeh Tsvi Halevi, Dr. [Karl] Fornberg and other well-known writers. When the first issue arrived in Los Angeles, many of his earlier friends and later enemies decried it as a horror. The complaints were that it was the size of a small prayer book, that it was not socialist enough, that it was too Zionist, that it was this and something else, and it was in general not suitable. People also measured it against the weekly Yiddish newspapers from New York — not taking into account the local conditions. It should be said here that, among the Yiddish cultural activists in the city, although their number was not so large, there were Zionists, Poyle-tsiyon [Poale Zion; Labor Zionist], socialist-teritorialists, anarchists, Bundists, and — don’t think this is a joke — also vegetarians. Each wanted the newspaper to express his own platform. Of course, each looked for what he could not, and should not, find.
Vortsman was ideologically a democratic Zionist. He was one of the founders of the democratic faction that was founded at the Zionist Congress. He was a proponent and strong defender of trade unionism. As a newspaperman, he knew that a strongly partisan newspaper had no chance here. He wanted a good Yiddish newspaper, where all orientations could express their opinions in a purely honorable manner. He sought to encourage new talents from whatever direction they might come. Each Jewish party adherent at that time wanted to have all or nothing, and they succeeded. Vortsman’s appeals did not help. They fell on deaf ears. Little respected, the weekly newspaper was published without interruption for a whole two years, until it seemed the time, with the help of certain individuals, to convert it into a daily newspaper. However, the war broke out in 1914 and great difficulties arose, and the K.Y.S. ceased to appear.
I have dwelt especially at length on the first newspaper because this was the first and most difficult step in the course of Yiddish newspapers in California, and all beginnings are difficult.1

* * *

In the two years that the newspaper existed, a large number of Jews took an interest in the newspaper and, despite the fact that the newspaper gave up the ghost from too much smallpox and measles, it nevertheless created a means and a possibility for newspaper publishing among us in the city. One of Vortsman’s greatest mistakes was that he began to publish his newspaper in San Francisco. Los Angeles had begun to grow by leaps and bounds; it had far surpassed the Jewish population of San Francisco, and this element was more Jewish than there...

1 Translator’s note: quoting in Hebrew the statement by Rabbi Ishmael in the Talmud, “Kol hatchalot kashot.”
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